BioUrja works to prioritize employee safety following May 11 fire

By Erin Voegele | May 17, 2022

BioUrja Renewables’ 135 MMgy ethanol plant in Peoria, Illinois, was temporarily idled on May 11 following a fire that damaged some of the plant’s grain storage infrastructure. The company is currently working to ensure the safety of employees, contractors and first responders and expects to resume ethanol production within five to eight weeks.

Scott D. Carey, interim president of BioUrja Renewables, said that the May 11 incident involved the failure of a large corn bin. “Thankfully, there were no life-threatening injuries,” he said. Two plant employees were transported to a local hospital to be evaluated for potential smoke inhalation. One of those two employees was also treated for a minor contact burn. “Both employees were discharged the same day and were ultimately safe—we are very happy about that,” Carey continued.

The root cause of the fire is currently unknown, but Carey stressed BioUrja is currently working with third-party experts and investigate the cause of the incident. He said one main corn bin was affected by the fire, along with four silos. One of those silos was used as a dust collector. The other three were not being used at the time of the fire. No other infrastructure at the plant has been affected. Carey confirmed that the fermentation systems, distillation system and load out infrastructure have not been impacted.

One of the impacted silos has been smoldering since the May 11 incident, according to Carey. On May 16 that smoldering material caused temperature of the silo to rise to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, BioUrja, two third-party expert companies and the Peoria fire department determined that the best mode of action was to spray water on the silo. That occurred at approximately 4:00 p.m. on May 16, Carey said, with the temperature of the silo reduced to ambient temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. “Thankfully, that was an effective technique,” Carey said. “However, there is still smoldering actively, so we’ll constantly monitor that specific silo until they come down.” A nitrogen foam blanket may be used to help control the smoldering. “We’re at the phase now where we are creating a plan to safely take down the silos,” Carey added.

Carey stressed that his number one priority is to ensure the safety of employees, third-party contractors and first responders. “Every decision that we are making to get the plant back to full production is driven by safety-first principles,” he added, noting the company made the decision to temporarily idle the plant as soon as the incident occurred. Carey stressed that the safety of plant employees is BioUrja’s number one priority. As such, the company has given staff the option to stay home if they don’t feel safe onsite.

Regarding plans to resume operations at the plant, Carey stressed that the situation is currently very fluid and could change. Based on the timeline the company sees today, he said operations could resume in five to eight weeks.

Once the facility is brought back online, Carey said plant operations are unlikely to be impacted by the loss of the corn bin and silo structures. He said the plant has some unutilized storage capacity that can be used to supplement the loss of the grain silos. The facility can also alter its logistics network a bit to enable operations to run at full capacity, he added.

BioUrja Group purchased the Peoria facility from ADM in November 2021.